In two more years, the mortgage on my tiny patch of suburban paradise will be paid off. This is a consummation that I have longed for, especially when I tossed aside all expectation of working full-time for other people, about ten years ago, and resolved to make a living from writing, and from doing freelance publishing with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. I had an almost wholly unexpected bout of good sense when I purchased the house in 1995; which resulted in a) not buying into too much house, and b) ensuring that the mortgage did not consume more than a quarter of my total monthly income, as it then stood. Since then, the mortgage has been paid monthly, on the dot, even in months in which I just scraped past, economically, by the skin of my teeth. Something always showed up in time to rescue us from disaster; the sale of the California property allowed me to install a direly-needed new HVAC system, for instance.
The situation now is that I have sufficient income to make serious and concrete plans for fixing various things about the house. Alas, I have concluded that unless and until I get offered a bomb of money for film rights to Luna City, or the Adelsverein Trilogy, the vacation home/residence in the Hill Country is off the table. The rational course is to work with the house I have in the real world, and not the one in dreams, and so the plans have been mapped out in best Soviet Five-Year Plan style. The end of the month will bring about the first of them; the patio project – or more precisely, the ‘catio’ – a residence for the cats who we have inherited or have claimed us as their permanent servant class. We have designed a covered, screened shelter for the cats; full of climbing stands, ramps, platforms, hammocks – what Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy terms “a Disneyland for cats!” This is Phase One. Honestly, I will be glad to get their litterboxes out of the house itself and have them – or most of them – living in a place that we can clean with a spritz from the garden hose. One of the cats we inherited from Mom has a dicey digestion, the other is willfully and deliberately incontinent … and I am just that tired of dealing with the mess, the smell, and the puddles of liquid or not-so-liquid matter.
Phase Two; a renovation of the guest bathroom, which is the one mainly used by the Daughter Unit. Easy peasy, relatively. The bathtub/shower is in relatively good shape, but the toilet and sink vanity absolutely have to go. It’s a very small bathroom, those two items are the original contractor-installed, and besides taking up too much space, they are ugly, and well past their best-if-used-by date. (We’ve seen other home-owners in the neighborhood put them out for bulk trash collection in the last ten or so years.) We plan to replace the sink vanity with a pedestal sink, a better grade of toilet, and paying Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy to tile the floor with tiles which we got from a neighbor – leftovers from her own home renovation. Hey – the price was right, and there should be just enough of them to retile a tiny cubicle of a bathroom. Our plan also calls for tiling the wall behind where the vanity was with some nice bits of ornamental tile, which we will have to purchase, before Roman can install the new sink and toilet. Aside from that – Phase Two is relatively easy on the budget, although the Daughter Unit wants Roman to build a shelf-and-basket-drawer unit to go up the wall and replace the storage space lost with the vanity.

Phase Three: the master bath and dressing room. A bigger project, and consequently more expensive, although it is really two small rooms. One has the toilet and bathtub-and-shower, the other the vanity and sink. The bathtub is totally shot – and I had a go at refinishing it about fifteen years ago, which bought about another decade of life for it. No – it is beyond all salvage. Roman redid a neighbor’s bathroom – taking out the bathtub and converting it into a walk-in shower stall. He did wonderful work – and has promised to do the same for me. I buy the materials, he does the work. My plans proceed.
I want a neo-Victorian look for the master bath, or as much as I can get, utilizing the existing fabric of those two little rooms and not paying a bomb for the various elements. I can reuse some brushed aluminum elements that I bought from Crate and Barrel some years ago – which means that I am committed to that metal for everything else. Fortunately, brushed aluminuim seems to be a popular finish, even in retro-styled fixtures, if the searches on the internet are anything to go by. The necessary bits for the shower enclosure are available at the local big-box construction outlet … and some of the smaller items are on Amazon at a quite reasonable rate. I want hexagonal white tile on the floor, dark wood baseboards, blue and white toile wallpaper, and vintage-looking lights over the vanity. All those elements are available through the big-box outlets. The room where the vanity is supposed to go is a weird space – 55 inches. Upon looking at what is available – oh, deary me. The ones I really like are either too big and massively expensive. But I did run across an a number of articles about repurposing a small dresser to serve as a bathroom vanity … and I happen to have two such items out in the garage. The small oak dresser would serve very well, especially if I can obtain locally a slab of quartz or granite, with a hole for a drop-in sink custom-cut for it … yes, the master bath reno will sop up the summer extra income, but the resulting bathroom will be amazing! It may very well take at least three months to pay for the materials and for Roman’s expertise. But I don’t mind. The deplorable condition of the master bath has long been a thorn in the side of this home-owner.
Phase Four; replace the garage door. Of course, the larger part of this project means sorting out the contents of the garage itself. It would be darned nice to fit one, or both of the cars in the garage again, especially if we can do this by the time we gear up for the Christmas market season.
Phase Five – this project is variable, as it is even more huge than the master bath. The kitchen. I haven’t thought that far ahead, practically, although we found – on our visit to Goliad last week – the image of the perfect kitchen to serve as a model. All this, and a peninsula to serve as a workspace … I haven’t even thought this far out to make an estimation of the costs, although I did buy a book for Roman to study last year, about custom cabinetry. At some point between this phase and the next, new flooring throughout the house will be involved, once the kitchen and the bathrooms are done.

Our Kitchen Inspiration

Our Kitchen Inspiration

Phase Six will likely happen next year or the following; replacing the roof. In March of 2005, a violent hailstorm ripped through my neighborhood, putting the final kibosh on my own roof and practically everyone elses’. At that time, I was told that the shingles would be good for ten years, maybe a little longer, if we were lucky. So far, I have not seen the little granules washing off and piling up at the bottom of the gutter downspouts, as I had before. We’ve been lucky, as far as marble-sized hail goes – but this will not last forever. A couple of neighbors have gone and done standing-seam metal roofs, which are good for a lifetime and then some. So – metal roof, next year or the year after.
Following upon the roof will be replacing the windows, especially on the badly-weathered side of the house; likely that will also mean replacing some of the siding, which is also badly decayed in places. I had looked into doing new windows four or five years ago but didn’t have the funds to commit to it then. And that will wrap up the Five Year Plan, finally, to improve Chez Hayes.

6 Comments

  1. John F. MacMichael

    Good luck with all this! You do seem to be looking at all this with a realistic, one step at a time schedule. I have know people who planned this sort of major remodeling in the belief that they could knock it all out in a couple of months (three tops). It did not end well.

    On the other hand, I have been involved (as semi-volunteer labor) in a number of such projects (my Mom used to do them). More than once she took on houses that I looked at and thought “First step, bulldoze it.” but when she was done they looked like they were just waiting for the photographers from Sunset magazine to show up. It is amazing what a difference a successful remodeling can make.

  2. Sgt. Mom

    I can’t help but be realistic about this – as I will be buying the various necessary elements out of pocket as I go – and I have done enough elemental stuff to know how much time and effort it will take. Going room by room keeps it realistic, I think. We’ll paint and install new flooring and baseboards as we go, as well as scraping all that ghastly popcorn texture off the ceiling.
    The roofing, the windows and the siding might very well go the fastest – but of course, I’ll have to hire professionals for all that. The interior stuff will be done by myself, the Daughter Unit and Roman the Handy Guy, in the interests of keeping costs down.

  3. Curmudgeon

    I also have a small house — and a very small, very dated bathroom. Realistically, practical considerations require removing a built-in closet with shelves and I also have to work around baseboard hot water heating. Part of my solution is to use a behind-the-door cabinet unit that attaches to the door hinges and can be swung open when the door is closed. One model even includes a full-length mirror on the back. Check Amazon under the name Cabidor for the best photos & video.

    Fortunately, for towels and such, the hallway outside the bathroom has space just the right width and depth to house a large Craftsman-style cabinet which fits my overall plans for remodeling and refurnishing.

    I’m also considering using one of these thin, hinged cabinets behind the kitchen door leading into my back entryway.

    Good luck and keep us posted.

  4. Sgt. Mom

    Thanks, Curmudgeon – I will check out the Cabidor models. I plan on posting occasional pictures of progress!

  5. Jim Burke

    Getting out from under a mortgage = freedom!!

    Good luck n the refurb effort.

    • Sgt. Mom

      Thanks, Jim – this and being approved for social security will give me the latitude to do a lot of deferred upgrades on the house. I have simple tastes when it comes to vacations, also – which saves a bundle. Mom and Dad always preferred to stay at home and rusticate, rather than spending a bomb on things like cruises, and expensive condos in some resort.
      It also helps no end that both of our cars were paid for out of pocket, and we have no intention of going into debt for a new one, as long as the existing ones last …

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